Dev is currently the Chairman of the Hotel Marketing Company where he helps to put companies with great service or tech products in front of great hotels. He is also the Managing Partner of the Hotel Property Team which is a boutique hotel agency, and is a self-proclaimed hotel guru!
Dev talks about his 40 years in the industry and you will hear his tips on understanding more about your competition and using technology to drive sales.
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VV: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Venue Viewpoint as we get more analysis on the hospitality industry from those working within it. As usual, you’ll be able to find this episode and all episodes of the Venue Viewpoint on the blog of our VenueView.co.uk website.
Joining us this week, we have Dev Anand.
Dev is currently the Chairman of the Hotel Marketing Company where he helps to put companies with great service or tech products in front of great hotels. He is also the Managing Partner of the Hotel Property Team which is a boutique hotel agency. He is also a self-proclaimed hotel guru.
Good morning, Dev! How are you at the moment? How is life treating you?
Dev Anand: Yeah, pretty good, pretty busy with lot’s going on.
VV: So, Dev, for those who don’t know you, can you just outline a little bit about your background, what you do and the part you play in the hospitality industry?
Dev Anand: Okay. A self-proclaimed hotel guru – that probably comes with age because I’ve been in this game for a good 40 plus years, most of it (30 odd years) were spent as a corporate hotel booking agent and we kind of invented that concept back in the 1970s here in the UK. Eventually took that global and, if you’d like, a forerunner of the OTAs and we were doing it but on the phone rather than over the web because there wasn’t a web at that time.
More recently I do two things. One is I help companies that have really great products and services market themselves to the hospitality industry because the differential now between the owner of the brand and the owner of the property makes that quite complex. And the other role I have which is probably equally as important to me is the hotel property team where we’re a boutique hotel state agency.
VV: Okay. So, 40 years in the industry. What do you think has been the biggest change or the most significant change over that period of time?
Dev Anand: Oh gosh, a very big question.
Clearly technology – as I say, back in the early ‘70s we were using telex machines and the phone. By 1990 we did a thousand hotel bookings a day on behalf of corporate clients predominantly in Europe and a little bit further afield and the process was a phone call in, let’s say at 9:15 a.m., our consultants and agents taking that requirement down on a piece of paper.
The phone went down.
We would then ring one, two, three, four, five, six, seven hotels and say “Have you got a room?”, record the rate and the reference of who took the booking, put the phone down, call the PA or secretary back and say “Right, your man is now booked at the XYZ Hotel at this price.”
Put the phone down.
The paper would then go into a typing pool.
The typing pool will then type it up on a confirmation voucher and it will be in the post that day first class to both the hotel and the client.
So, you imagine!….BUT it was pretty efficient and our proudest boast was that if we verbally confirm booking by 4:30 p.m., it will be in the post that evening.
And then slowly but surely one by one we took every process where we could say “How do we make this quicker? How do we automate it? How do we make it faster and more efficient?” and eventually some guy invented the internet and some other guy invented the PC so that was interesting.
VV: So, with all of the good things that happened over the last 40 years, is there anything that you miss from those day?
Dev Anand: I think certainly there is a direct relationship where the greater the technology, it seems almost the less the human resource and we’re getting to a very dangerous point where the technology is now far advanced, so the human people that could actually use make use of it.
I’ll give you an example – a friend of mine who is in the venue booking business was moaning and groaning to me the other day to say “Do you know you can call a hotel on the phone on a Monday to ask for the conference office to give them a £5000, £10,000 piece of business and all you get is voicemail saying “Sorry, we’re all in a meeting. We’ll ring you back.” You leave a message and Wednesday there is no call back and the venue agency has an SLA agreement with the client to turn around in 24 hours.”
So, therein lies I think a lot of the problem.
Just going back to what else have we seen, clearly standards.
I think the most interesting thing is that 40 years back you had a wealth and a plethora or Hotel B&Bs, two-star hotels, two-and-a-half-star hotels, non-branded and privately owned.
They are so going – B&B maybe not, I think that still exists and obviously AirBnB, but your two-and-a-half-star privately owned hotel has given way completely to the Ibis, Premier Inn, Travelodge budget branded hotel, probably still owned by the same guys.
Every Best Western, every Holiday Inn Express is owned by a private individual who simply brands it.
So, that’s clearly a whole major change that’s happened.
VV: So, what do you think some of the challenges are for those smaller hotels particularly if it’s got one of the bigger brands nearby?
Dev Anand: Join the brand game!
I’ll give you an example – there is probably only one 200-room four-star hotel in London that isn’t branded.
There might be two or three more but I was talking to the owner there and I said “Out of interest how come you haven’t become a Holiday Inn or whatever?” and he said “To be honest, if we were starting today, there is no chance that we wouldn’t go down that route.
It’s only that we’ve be in the game for 20 years, we know how to fill the hotel, we do fill the hotel, we fill it at quite a good room rate.
Therefore, the brand is not going to particularly bring too much extra value. It’s just going to cost me management fees and referral fees” but, as I say, clearly he stated “Had I been starting again from scratch, I would be a brand.”
VV: So, looking at London and I guess across the UK, how do you see the state of the hospitality industry in 2017?
Dev Anand: I think remarkably healthy. Go back to 2008 when we had the financial crisis, the hotel industry, particularly in London, probably less so in the provinces was about the only industry I can think of that sort of went through it without even really noticing what was happening.
Today, we’ve got terrorism which is a major issue and I think it does affect probably the likes of France and Belgium as well as other European countries more than it does the UK.
Brexit, I think, is just all confusion and the reality is that Brexit is good if you’re an overseas buyer and you want to buy a hotel in the UK because the exchange rate is good and if you’re a UK buyer, you’re probably not going to buy too much in Europe.
I think AirBnB could be considered a threat but on the other hand I think like the budget brands, if you take Premier Inn and Travelodge, a lot of the turnover comes from people who wouldn’t have stayed in hotels before.
You and I go to a wedding, we would have stayed with a friend, we would’ve stayed with an aunty. If it costs 40, 50, 60 quid to stay the night in a hotel, you’d think “Actually, you know what, why don’t we do that?” So, I think they’ve actually expanded the room night activity and I think AirBnB is doing the same. These are people who wouldn’t have stayed in the 100, 150-pound-a-night hotel particularly.
One hotelier here I think has been remarkably clever and if I can mention its name, the Bespoke Bermondsey Square Hotel embraced AirBnB. Well, he said “I’ve got 100+ landlords in my area. One of their issues is late check-ins at 2 in the morning.
One of their issues is finding the cleaning staff to do the change around when one guest leaves and another one comes.
As a local hotelier why don’t I actually solve that problem?” and he approached all the AirBnB people and said “I’ll act as your key handover point. Nothing else.
So, the guy staying a mile or half a mile up the road is going to recognize that I’ve got a bar and restaurants and it will bring me business. I’ve got chambermaid staff that aren’t busy seven days a week.
So, if we can fit it in, we can probably offer you that as a cost. It’s probably a lot easier for us to do it then it would be for you to go and get your own cleaning company.”
So, hoteliers being broadminded and forward thinking as to how can we embrace this stuff.
VV: Do you think it’s an industry that’s common to look at perceived threats and how you can turn that to your advantage or do you think there’s a tendency to ignore them until they get larger and larger?
Dev Anand: Please, please. We even had a whole comedy program called Basil Fawlty.
Hoteliers, and some of them are my best friends, but they are really very inward looking, very head-down and “What’s my problem?” rather than kind of actually “What’s going on in the wider world?”
That’s a sweeping generalization and the ones that aren’t are the smart hoteliers. I mean, I go to the Master Innholders Conference every year and it’s enlightening to see five star hotel GMs go train to actually gather what’s going on in the wider world.
VV: Do you think as the landscape of the industry moves forward, that will become more and more commonplace out of necessity as more and more threats appear?
Dev Anand: Yeah and you look at Accor – they are acquiring hotel businesses. They’re acquiring the likes of One Fine Stay. They’re inviting hotels that aren’t Accor to come on to their reservation platforms. So, I think there is kind of a very interesting move.
Hotels are an obsession for the people within the industry. For people who don’t actually normally use hotels, and I’ve got pals, I’ll say to them “Let’s meet at the Hilton Park Lane for a drink on Wednesday” and they will say to me “Are you allowed in there if you’re not staying there?” Hoteliers used to call it the threshold issue.
People feel almost intimidated about walking into a five star hotel unless they feel like they own it, which is crazy.
VV: So, with regards to the industry in general, whether it be technology or HR or people, what do you see as current trends that are moving the industry forward at the moment?
Dev Anand: Clearly brands – and one might ask the question, ‘Have we kind of gone a bit brand crazy’ – all the major chains I mean, Marriott now has acquired Starwood, I believe, and has 35 brands.
Again, there’s probably one guy at Marriott that actually understands the difference between Moxxy and London Edition and Autograph and blah, blah, blah.
So, it’s difficult to really market brands very strongly. Travelodge is one brand. It’s called Travelodge. We all know what it stands, we all know what it means and Bobs your uncle.
One appreciates the major chains want the ability to be able to say look we’ve got a five star offering for a thousand pound a night and we’ve got a two and a half star offering for 50 quid a night. That is clearly their motivation but does the customer understand it?
VV: Are there any brands that really stand out with regards to getting it right at the moment?
Dev Anand: I think we all have our favorites. I mean, it would be like somebody saying “What’s your favorite hotel in the country?” and I’d say “It depends on what sort of customer you are” because I personally kind of like low key boutique hotels Hotel Du Vin, Malmaison that sort of thing. Somebody else likes the flunkeys and the five star service.
So, it’s difficult to say what’s better than the other.
I was talking to the HR guy the other day and he just said, he knows hotel groups and chains and brands from putting people into work there, and said “The likes of Four Seasons and Shangrila and Mandarin really have got it right”.
And it reflects, you know as a customer if you stay there it’s going to work and it probably starts with the fact that they actually treat their staff nicely whereas there are hotel groups, the way they treat their staff is the way the staff then treat the clients.
VV: Yeah I guess it does come through from the top. So, whether it be short term or longer term, what would you think the challenges are that the sector faces?
Dev Anand: Well, I think the one everyone cites and it’s on every conference, seminar subject list at the moment is the OTAs, are the devil incarnate and could you put garlic around your hotel at night so that they don’t come and upset you.
I think where hoteliers need to grow up and we talked earlier about broadmindedness and looking at the wider world, the fact is that I suspect a lot of major hotels and hotel chains, their business either comes from tour operators and corporates that give them thousands of room nights each year but 50% of their business probably comes from the customer that will use 20 room nights in total, 2 of which with Hilton, 3 of which with Starwood, 4 of which with somebody else and so on and so on.
For that sort of customer the OTA is a dream because it doesn’t do enough room nights to excite any one hotel company but someone like Booking.com or Expedia or whatever give him a fantastic customer service, recognize him for the fact that he may do 20 or 30 room nights a year. Amass that up and you’ve suddenly got yourself a major amount of business.
So, I think hoteliers have got to come at it from the point of view of say “The end customer is the king” and if he wants to go OTA route or he wants to come direct to us or he wants to book through his auntie, that’s his prerogative.
Therefore, let’s cover all those angles and if it’s a direct booking opportunity, yes of course we will run it well but don’t deride the OTAs too much. They wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t the customer demand for it.
VV: Do you ever see a point where major brands would come together to create one booking portal without paying hefty commissions?
Dev Anand: It’s been tried.
It’s been tried several times and it’s never worked.
There was a thing called ‘Hotel Key’, there was a thing called ‘Global Hotel Alliance’, all sorts of things but on the technology side – one of them where, say you had 10 hotel groups all join up, you go on to let’s say, the Hilton site. If you get to the point of leaving without making a booking, suddenly the other thing pops up and says “Well, actually beside the Hilton there is also a wotsits or a wotsist up the road.”
Never, never, never worked.
It’s bad enough for a hotel company to get all its own hotels into one common way of doing things less alone tell other hotel companies.
You’ve got hotel companies owned by an entity in the US where they still haven’t understood that the Europeans do business differently and vice versa. That’s very difficult.
VV: So, whether it be at brand level or individual hoteliers level, what do you see with regards to common mistakes over and over again?
Dev Anand: I think the core of it comes back to what it’s always been and has been for the last 40 or 50 years – What makes a customer enjoy staying in a hotel and to return back as perhaps a direct customer? Is the hotel getting it right?
I think that’s where the boutique boys have almost taken the lead – treating individual guests as individuals, using technology or human resource or both to recognize the customer.
Clients just love the fact that on their second or third stay they come back and somebody says “Ah, Mr. Jones, how are you? How’s the wife and is the golf handicap any better?”
And whether you’re a five-room hotel or a 500-room hotel, anything you can do to get nearer that is the start point. Fantastic service and fantastic staff and longevity of staff.
The biggest issue with technology today, as I talk to hotels, they like to say “Look, we’ve got a marvelous little system” and I always say “It’s fine. And all you need to do is train your staff?” and he says “If my staff stayed 5 minutes, I’ll be a happy man.”
That’s the problem.
That staff move around and turnover is still far too high and there’s all sorts of reasons for that and as a result, a guest coming one year after his first stay, is he likely to meet the same member of staff that he met a year back?
VV: So, how about online presence? Do you think hoteliers invest enough time making sure that they’re getting that right?
Dev Anand: I think it partly is the answer.
I get encouraged by Trip Advisor. I think Trip Advisor is fantastic.
For a customer, again, I use it, I’m going to a place I’ve never been to before, there are seven hotels, I haven’t got a clue which is the best of the seven. I can look at seven websites, I can look at some pretty pictures.
The reality is if 400 customers have been to that town before and 380 of them say “This was the best one,” I’ll go with the flow.
So, from that point of view, great.
Clearly, everyone’s going to have a problem every now and again guests will be the first on those sort of comparison sites to say they had an issue.
What’s encouraging is the number of hotel GMs now are responding and they’re saying “Look, clearly we screwed up that day. We’re really sorry and we’ve taken on board what you said and we’re fairly confident that the next time you come and see us it’ll be better.”
Somebody once told me customers usually complain because they actually like you but they just want you to get it right. If they thought you were a complete disaster, they just even won’t bother, they wouldn’t even bother to make a review.
VV: Yeah. I guess from a credibility perspective it can actually bolster your credibility if you’re taking the time to respond.
Dev Anand: Absolutely. And recently in the non hotel world my wife’s had a couple of issues and conversely we were singing the praises of the couple of companies that turned around the said “Look, okay, you’re out of warranty, you’re out of this but we’ll look after you, we’ll return the broken item” or whatever it may be. Yeah and you’re more likely to tell your friends about the guy that did something extraordinary when you complained rather than just saying “Yeah, it was a good hotel. It wasn’t bad. Quite enjoyed it.”
VV: So, in your role at the Hotel Marketing Company, you must get access to lots of new ideas, lots of technology. Where do you see the industry going from a tech perspective?
Dev Anand: Okay, there’s an old adage I first came across it when somebody out of IT said “Ah, look, we’ve got this fantastic thing, gizmo that will do this for the hotelier and if he spends the normal 1% or 2% of turnover on technology, then it will be really very cheap for him” and I said “Well, that’s where you’ve lost it, matey, because hotels don’t spend anywhere near that on technology as a whole.”
The hotelier attitude largely is if it isn’t a better bed or a better bedspread or a better whatever in the bedroom, then don’t talk to me, don’t worry about it.
Hence you’ve seen things like PMS systems and CRM systems and so on which are all, yeah, very important and have now come down to very much more software as a service – no hefty upfront fee, you pay a monthly charge and if you don’t like it after a year, you go somewhere else – and that’s maybe not a bad thing.
I do see some fantastic technology but it’s taking it in to tune with the reality of running a hotel. So, how can we work even if the hotel reception staff turnover is higher than we’d like it to be.
VV: Do you think that the people element affects the tech side of things, as you just said, with regards to resources to actually man it or update or support?
Dev Anand: Yeah. I mean, most hotels now particularly of any size have a yield manager, revenue manager. I think a) the job titles are terrible but b) usually the people are pretty terrible as well. They put the fear of God into everyone who actually works in the hotel and it can get to technology just being the driver instead of the human brain being the driver.
Just because you were full on the third week of May last year doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be full on the third week of May this year and these revenue managers and the revenue technology systems are basically the thing that’s driving the room rate or the advertised room rate.
I think just a bit of sense and receptionist answering the phone and saying “You want a room for 90 quid? My revenue manager is saying I should actually be taking a hundred. Tell you what, we call that 95 and be done with it.” I think that old fashioned bit of bartering….
Let me give you an example.
We have the online booking of bedrooms pretty well tapped now. I’ve been involved in the last 10 years on the possibility of the online booking of meeting rooms and initially it came out of the States it came out of Europe and largely everyone was agreed that what you want to do is maybe make that online relatively simple.
You have one-day meeting, up to a hundred people, maybe two-day, maybe some overnight accommodation but the more complex it is, the more you’re likely to do the phone call.
The problem with all of it is you could probably just about get availability online but what you can’t get is dynamic pricing online because it requires somebody, as you do on bedrooms which is almost on hourly, daily, by minute basis looking ahead and saying “Oh look, the third Thursday in July’s is not looking good. I think I’ll bring the price of that room down.”
It doesn’t really work in meetings. It’s more likely to work on bedrooms.
And meetings today, hundreds of millions of pounds of business just in this country alone is done on the basis of probably an agent picking up the phone to the banqueting manager or conference sales office of XYZ Hotel and saying “Look, I’ve got this big chunk of business, you tell me if it fits your diary really well, the problem with it is that the client doesn’t want to pay the three-grand-a-day room hire. Knock that on the head I can get you the business.”
And the conference sales office says “I’ll tell you what, it fits my diary perfectly. I’d like the business. So I will knock it on the head.” Computers can’t do that.
VV: What do you think are the blockers are then? Obviously you’ve got full meeting rooms, you’re going to have the overlap and you’re going to have more hotel rooms full. So, with regards to seeing this is an opportunity, what do you think the blockers are and why are people reticent to go down that route?
Dev Anand: In terms of online for meeting room booking?
Dev Anand: Because it really cracked the way of getting the pricing dynamic. Regus, as in the serviced office company, I think kind of got it about as close as I saw which is they simply pull a grid up on the screen and they said “If we’ve still got the availability, we will do you a top line that says “30 to 2 days out” and we’ll do you a vertical line that says “30% to 2% discount.” So, the long of short of it is the nearer you book, the bigger the discount off the published rate. It’s there for all to see.
It’s not dynamic but it’s plain, it’s simple, it kind of works actually. So, it just takes somebody to crack that one.
VV: Do you think it could work?
Dev Anand: Only if you employ conference yield managers in the same way you employ bedroom yield managers.
VV: Yeah, yeah, I guess so. That could be an opportunity for you, Dev. We may see you cracking that at some point in the future.
So, with regards to projects that you’re working on, what are you working on at the moment that’s really exciting you?
Dev Anand: Okay, I do some pretty diverse things and that’s actually what keeps me motivated.
So, right now I am helping the Chinese government called China Global Television Network, their equivalent of the BBC, put a Chinese news channel which broadcast in Mandarin, separate channels in Russian, Arabic, Spanish and English – into four and five-star hotels around right now in the EMEA and then on the global stage too.
We did it once before for the Russians with Russia Today.
We’ve done it with some Arabic channels and so on.
And it’s simply TV channels recognize that the customer staying in a hotel is a kind of quite a special healthy A and B rating type customer and advertisers are very keen to get to the sort of person that stays in the four and five-star hotel.
As well as guests around the world and from the hotel perspective feel Chinese tourism is the biggest growth tourism of any country around and IHG and other hotel companies are even running their own internal China Welcome promotional programs and that sort of thing and giving the customer what they want…
There is a very old adage about when you stay in a hotel, the minimum you want is what you have at home and actually you want one better than you have at home.
It started with private bathrooms and it started with power showers and then followed by duvets followed by proper TV networks and so on.
And at home most of the Western world has a variety of a hundred TV channels and they can watch the sport and they can watch it and they can record it watch it back when they come back for dinner and that sort of thing.
There are still major, major, major hotels where quite frankly they are in the dark ages, nowhere near what the customer has at home.
So, I think there’s a whole explosion of tablets in the bedroom and frankly – you are not going to make money out of people making phone calls for your hotel bedroom anymore.
So, I figured it’s a dual scenario of hotels wanting to get their in-room entertainment and offering for the guests better and the TV channels saying “Actually, you know what, the customers staying in your four-star hole is perfect for my advertisers.”
So, interesting little project. It’s got nothing to do with what I normally do on a day-to-day basis.
The other one is brokerage. I mean, this still was exciting. If you can find buyer who wants to buy a hundred-million and you know someone who is selling one and you put the two together it can be very exciting.
VV: Yes, I can imagine
Aside from Chinese TV, have you got anything that you could recommend to people that can save them time, save them money or bring something else to their customer experience, anything that springs to mind?
Dev Anand: I think hoteliers, I’m not sure they do a lot of, though I think privately ones do, go and stay in some other people’s hotels like I stay at Robin Hudson’s, Pig In The Blanket and The Beach and whatever that is in Hampshire, go and stay in a Malmaison. Go and stay in the Citizen M.
I think some of these kind of quirky kooky little new hotels will blow you away if you are a Hilton or a Starwood GM.
See what the rest of the hotel industry is doing because it’s pretty exciting out there and not just in your own country but globally. I think the classic one is of Kurt Ritter who was the President of Rezidor Carlson Hotels, it was in Vegas and he saw the first wine tower which is basically a tower, looks like a wine rack and you’ve got interesting young people, girls and guys on trampolies bouncing up and down. The more expensive the wine, the higher it is… And he put one of those in the Radisson Blu at Stansted Airport. Anyone walking through Stansted Airport and then to hotel got blown away because they’ve got a bit of Vegas in their backyard.
And I think that’s kind of what we need to do a bit more of.
VV: Fantastic. Well, Dev, it’s been brilliant talking to you. Before you go, can you think of one or two people that would be able to add value, people that others would like to listen to with regards to their opinions on the hospitality industry?
Dev Anand: I’m sure I can think of quite a few.
Let’s say Mark Harris as an industry observer and I’ll put you in touch with him from Apple Intelligence Network.
A guy called David Taylor who’s the Group Sales Director for Grassroots who look after the venue booking activity for some pretty major players, five star banks and accounting people.
There’s a dozen GMs and I can think of maybe one or two that you might find the just different to the norm.
VV: Great. Well, Dev, thanks so much for today and good luck with all of your ventures.
Dev Anand: All right, Keith. Thank you.
VV: It was amazing spending time chatting to Dev today. His long service in the industry has really given him a unique insight as to the changes that have taken place and a really good eye for what may happen in the future.
I just want to thank Dev again for his time and if you want to get in touch, you’ll be able to find his email address on our website.
So, that’s it for another episode. We have lots more exciting guests lined up. So, please subscribe to the podcast to ensure that you get your regular industry insights via the Venue Viewpoint.
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